A Martian Compact

Planning For Self Governance On Mars

David A. Johnston
5 min readNov 23, 2020


Recently Starlink’s Terms of Service gave us all a peak into SpaceX’s view of how governance will work in space. In a nut shell companies and people living and working in Low Earth orbit or on the Earth’s Moon will fall under the jurisdiction of their Earth based country / state of incorporation, while governance on Mars will be set by those that settle there one day.

The SpaceX team has mentioned that they drew inspiration for their framework from the Space Declaration “Rights and Responsibilities by Humanity in the Universe”.

Which states:

All of this makes sense and syncs with international treaties such as the Outer Space Treaty which states nations of earth can not claim sovereignty over celestial objects and more recent laws in the US and EU that recognize the individuals and private companies have ownership of the resources they mine in space.

Which of course begs the next question.

What governance WILL the settlers of Mars set up for themselves?

Looking at a historical example this type of question was asked 400 years ago this month (November of 1620) when a small group of around 100 settlers ventured forth from Europe into an unknown new world and ended up landing at Cape Cod. Today we know these people as the “Pilgrims”.

Upon arriving at Cape Cod and not the expected Virginia colony they planned to go to and in a bit of a hurried manor they wrote and signed an “Agreement Between the Settlers of New Plymouth”, but is more commonly referred to now as the Mayflower Compact.

Which reads:

Mayflower Compact

“In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are under-written, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the eleventh of November [New Style, November 21], in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Dom. 1620.”

Compact 2.0 Now In The Mars Context

By an interesting chance of history, it appears one of my ancestors was a signatory of this famous document. A man named Degory Priest.

While this was unknown to me as a kid. I’ve been dreaming of settling Mars since I was young and in 30 years since I’ve studied a good bit about history, economics and in my professional life spent most of my career designing decentralized systems and communities and seeing how they function in the real world.

So with that as a back ground let me offer a framework for a new compact, this time with Mars in mind and much of what we have learned about good governance since 1620. All in a package as short and to the point as the original compact was.

The Marian Compact

“We whose names are under-written, acting as free and sovereign individuals.

Having undertaken, to secure personal, civic, religious and economic freedoms, a voyage to bring human life to Mars, do covenant our selves to respect the free entry and exit into competing civil bodies, for the development of standards and good governance that the natural rights of each person and by extension their property, might be upheld and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal rules, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most effective for the protection of each individual, unto which we shall enter into or leave on a voluntary basis and reserve the right to enact new and competing civil bodies, rules, and governance should the need arise, provided these bodies also respect the right of self determination of all sovereign individuals.

In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names in orbit of Mars, the eleventh of November, in the year of 2030.”

The Changes For The New Compact

  1. Obviously the settlers of the first Martian city won’t be claiming loyalty to a monarch so the references to King James are the first to be removed.
  2. Rather than acting as representatives of a nation I hope the first settlers will act in their own self interest as free and sovereign individuals.
  3. I included the objective of religious freedom as I grew up in the Christian Church and see a group of Christian families as a good set of candidates given their alignment of faith, values and structure for conflict resolution.
  4. Rather than binding themselves to a single civil body politic, I hope the first Martians will realize that having diversity and choice in governance, rules, and standards will thrive much faster via experimentation and competition than it does through a single centralized monopoly.
  5. Rather than the objective of the civil bodies being the “general good” of the colony, upholding the natural rights and by extension the property of individuals is the highest goal.
  6. In this version the ability of every participant to enter and exit civil arrangements is upheld.
  7. The ability of participants to start new civil bodies as long as they in turn recognize the right of others to do the same shall endure.
  8. Note that the focus of the compact is all around the individual, rather than a specific city, geography, or civic body. This is a purposeful recognition that individuals are the ultimate unit which can join or leave a voluntary organization of which these civic bodies all are.
  9. The harbour of Mars is its orbit or the moons of Mars are likely to serve this purpose over time.
  10. The event is set for November 21st 2030 ten years from today.


Before Martin settlers start writing constitutions and setting up their homesteads on the Red Planet, lets put it out there that Mars has the opportunity to move past many of Earth’s legacy ideas such as geographically bound nation states and that people on Mars will be free to choose and change their governance. In doing so I believe a wave of prosperity will be unleashed by the ensuring competition and innovation.



David A. Johnston

Technologist, Voluntarist, Future Martian Settler, & Evangelist for Decentralization.